Wednesday, April 24, 2013


    Two weeks ago, spring sprung.  Air temperatures are clinging to the 70s; and water temperatures, making progress towards 60.  The shadberry has bloomed, and fish are beginning to spawn.  The action yearned for through the winter is here and waxing quickly.
Springtime crappie, in all stages of the spawn, are very
predictable.  Photo by Genevieve Reilly.

    It was my dedicated fishing partner and brother, Phillip, who made the request:  “I want to catch something I’ve never caught before.”  Quicker than the leaves popped, my mind was full of crappie.

    Several lakes within an hour’s drive of our Fluvanna County home offer quality crappie angling, Lake Anna and Lake Orange being the most predominant, often yielding fish larger than a pound.  And with the spawning ritual well under way, these fish are very predictable.

    As I am more familiar with Lake Anna, we planned to paddle the lake’s Pamunkey branch the following day.

    After a late-morning start, we arrived at Fish Tales Tackle Shop at Anna Point Marina around 10 O’ clock.  With our ‘yaks in the truck, the plan was to launch at Hunter’s Landing on the Pamunkey, and fish coves—after stocking up.

    The clerk at the counter introduced a man whose name escapes me, but who introduced himself as the tournament partner of Chris Craft, a guide on the lake (CC BASSN Laka Anna Guide Service).  He gave us the scoop on the crappie movements, and set us up with the Kalin grubs that have produced so well as of late.  “Fish along the grass lines,” he advised, “and retrieve slowly.”

    Less than an hour later, we were on fish.  Phillip found them first.  In the back of a shallow cove, a small school hid itself among some wooden boat docks and provided our first keeper.

    It’s very rare that I don’t forget something.  This time, (besides my kayak’s drain plug that I patched with duct tape and a 3D glasses wrapper) it was ice for the cooler.  So upon returning from the No Wake Zone convenience store at Hunter’s Landing, we opted to abandon the smallish school in the back of the cove and pursue some with more table and trophy value.

    We found just that when my brother, again, came through.  A solid 12-incher came from the end of a boat slip adjacent to a patch of grass.

    As the sun climbed to its apex in the sky, the fishing slowed.

    After searching a few docks on the main river, it was evident that shade was a necessary factor, and not just that which was offered by the docks.  So we made the move to one in a slight inset of the bank, surrounded by trees.  As I had hoped, we were fast to several more keeper fish, and the pattern became more defined.

    The majority of fish were between 8-10 inches; but several measured 12, with the largest being 13—Phillip’s, caught on a dock bordered by shallow grass.

    This remained the pattern for the larger fish; and though it seemed our average catch would have been larger had we fished grass edges, I couldn’t recall the location of any significant grass beds, and because we were dependent upon ourselves for power, and were consistently boating table-worthy fish, we decided the effort was unnecessary.  We kept fishing docks.

    Several of these structures provided numerous keeper-sized fish.  One in particular produced seven over 11 inches.

    It is also worthy of note that the structures that are most light-restricting (hint: the ones with garage doors) fish best at midday when the sun is the highest, provided you can skip a jig far enough under it.

    The kayaks provided a critical edge in this way.  At a lower angle, with a smaller craft and presence, one can get closer without spooking fish, and launch a lure several feet into the shade of a dock.

    I also came to appreciate the “restrictive” nature of the man-powered craft on the expansive lake.  In a bass boat, the angler is free to motor about looking for fish, whereas the kayak fisherman is forced to fish areas thoroughly as a result of wind drift and the effort required to move large distances.  Fishing “smaller” has its rewards.

Of course, catch a mess of specks, and you've got a mess of
cleaning to do!  A good scaler can do wonders here.
Photo by Genevieve Reilly.
    We packed in after five hours of fishing.  Of almost 80 “specks,” 22 slabs were in the cooler, and will make for a nice campfire meal in weeks to come.  If you’re looking for a close-to-home crappie fishing destination, don’t count ‘Anna out.  Fish in numbers and size can be caught; and the local authorities are friendly and ready to help.  Look for structure—docks, grasslines, and rock piles.  If kayak fishing, don’t be intimidated by traffic from bigger boats—stick to the bank, and wear a life jacket. 

    If you’ve got pictures, success stories, or both, send them in via the Facebook page or the contact link on the blog!

First published in The Rural Virginian

Sunday, April 21, 2013


Photo by Matt Reilly
    When the temperatures rise, the cold winds of March subside, and the warm April showers fill the air and waters with inklings of summer, the fishing in Virginia takes off.  

The Old Dominion’s many small lakes and ponds can provide quality fishing in the spring months.  Here are just 10 destinations that should be on every fisherman’s calendar this month.

Lake Robertson

    Contained by the Blue Ridge’s rocky skeleton, Rockbridge County’s 30-acre Lake Robertson is an overlooked place to catch big fish.

    Beaver huts, hinge-cut trees, and large emerging weed beds provide ample structure for spawning bass; and, coupled with the crystal clear water, suggest a great place to sight fish for one of the many 10-pounders. 

Photo by Matt Reilly
    Walleye also cruise Lake Robertson, and fish are caught up to seven pounds annually.

    Redear Sunfish are particularly active on Lake Robertson later this month.  Leave an insect imitation
motionless on the lake bottom for a scrappy fight from one of these bottom feeding customers.

    The lake also sports good populations of Bluegill and Channel Catfish.

    Gas motors are prohibited; but a concrete boat ramp and boat rentals make this gem an accommodating destination for anyone.

Lake Burke

    Located in Burke Lake Park in busy Fairfax County, 218-acre Lake Burke is one of the most fished lakes in the state.  This threat is met by a strict management practice to ensure the health of the fishery for years to come.

    Lake Burke is known for its Largemouth Bass fishing; but Musky, Walleye, Bluegill, Crappie, Yellow and White Perch, and Blue and Channel Catfish all fin the lake.

    No gasoline motors are allowed.

Lake Frederick

    With or without a boat, Lake Frederick of Frederick County can provide some great fishing.

    Its 117 acres are filled with standing timber, which hides a multitude of species.  Largemouth Bass, Bluegill, Black Crappie, Channel Catfish, Walleye, and the occasional Pike can all be caught from the bank of Lake Frederick.

    Gasoline motors are prohibited, but if you own a boat with an electric motor, cast to standing timber for one of the 10-pound Largemouth that gave the lake its reputation as the best bass fishery in the Shenandoah Valley.

Harrison Lake

    If you’re looking for a peaceful place to fish or paddle, Harrison Lake in Charles City County might be your next trip.  At 82 acres, Harrison Lake is the epitome of larger tidewater fisheries like Chickahominy Lake.
Photo by Matt Reilly

    The usual tidal customers occupy the lake, including Chain Pickerel, Warmouth, Bluegill and Redear Sunfish, Flier, Bullhead, Bowfin, Crappie, and Largemouth Bass.  While the lake is not known for trophy sized fish, its inhabitants are known for the sport they provide. 

    A boat ramp and piers for the handicap or bank fishermen provide access to the lake.

Germantown Lake

    100-acre Germantown Lake is located in Fauquier County’s Crockett Park.

    The small lake is known for its thick population of trophy Largemouth; and produces several fish a year approaching 10 pounds.

    Germantown also supports the traditional southern mixed bag of Bluegill, Crappie, and Channel Catfish.

    Gas motors are prohibited; but the park provides boat rentals and a fishing pier.

Skidmore Reservoir

    A big part of spring in Virginia is trout fishing—Skidmore Reservoir offers just that.  The 120-acre, Harrisonburg impoundment is a put-and-grow fishery, and therefore, offers opportunities for excellent Brook Trout fishing year round.  Brook Trout reach three pounds in the reservoir as a result of good management.

    Fisheries biologists have recently noted an emerging pike fishery within the lake.  These toothy fish spawn in April, and can be caught shallow on spoons.

    Skidmore also boasts a host of warm water species such as Largemouth and Rock Bass, Crappie, Bluegill, and Bullhead.

    Gas motors are not permitted on the lake.

Hungry Mother Lake

    Hungry Mother Lake is a very diverse and unique lake.

    The Walleye fishing here takes off this month, with night fishing yielding the best results.

    Trophy Musky are taken from the lake annually as well—some reaching 48 inches and beyond. 

    Largemouth, Smallmouth, Spotted, and Rock bass all inhabit the lake, as well as Crappie, Channel Catfish, and Sunfish.

    Gas motors are prohibited.

    Located in Hungry Mother State Park, camping is permitted and boat rentals are available.  A minimal fee is required to gain access to the lake; but the promise of great fishing is well worth the charge.

Lake Orange

    Spring wouldn’t be spring without Crappie fishing.  Papermouths are in very good condition in Lake Orange, and offer good sport on light tackle.

    The Largemouth Bass population is just as successful, and the lake has produced 11-12 pound fish.
Lake Orange’s Walleye fishery also deserves attention.  Walleye are stocked yearly, and anglers have a fair chance to catch 4-5 pound fish.

    Sunfish, Channel Catfish, Northern Pike, Chain Pickerel, Yellow and White Perch, and Warmouth provide a further mix of species to the lake.

    Gas motors are prohibited; but boat rentals are available, and a pier provides access to some outstanding fishing.

Little Creek Reservoir

    A small lake in Southeastern Virginia, Little Creek Reservoir offers quality fishing for the tidal species:  Largemouth and Striped Bass, Crappie, Chain Pickerel, Yellow Perch, Sunfish, Blue Catfish, and even Walleye.
Photo by Matt Reilly

    Little Creek is a relatively deep lake containing little structure.  Most fishing is done along points and drop-offs, but in the spring, surprising Crappie and perch fishing can be found in the shallows.

    It is worth noting that gas motors and bank fishing are prohibited.

Lake Shenandoah

    At 36 acres, Rockingham’s Lake Shenandoah is the second smallest on our list.

    What makes this lake special is its Musky fishing.  Most other species in the lake are of small size; but the Musky thrive in the small impoundment on small Bluegill.  The toothy critters spawn in April, so catch them on spoons and big spinners near the grass.

    Gas motors are prohibited because of the lake’s size.

    Biologists are currently pondering a renovation of the lake, so have your chance at a trophy Musky before it’s gone!

Get it Before It’s Gone

    April can be a dynamite season for bass anglers.  With the first wave of spawners moving up onto beds and the water, subsequently, reaching prime temperatures, largemouth bass and our state’s other favorite fish species are reaching the apex of activity—and small bodies of water concentrate this action splendidly.  Get out before the summer heat sets in and land both size and numbers of fish.  And always, always, take pictures—and send them in!

First published in Woods & Waters Magazine

Thursday, April 18, 2013


    As a kid, I was particularly fond of frogs, turtles, insects—most anything that crawled, hopped, or tread in the out-of-doors.  

Now, while it’s still up for debate as to how “normal” I am, it seems I was a typical candidate for a lifetime as a dedicated fisherman.  Luckily, my father took the vital steps in insuring my future as such.  These are the kinds of people that are critical to the continuation of the sport we love.

    Annually, in an organized effort to introduce youth to fishing and the life lessons that are entailed, DGIF and other independent organizations host fishing days tailored to that purpose.  Whether it’s a son, daughter, niece, nephew, grandkid, neighbor, student, or church member, any kid can benefit; and it is our job to help them to.  Here are a few dates to jot down on your calendar in the upcoming season.

April 20-21—13th Annual Va. Fly Fishing Festival

    The Virginia Fly Fishing Festival, held each spring on the banks of the South River in Waynesboro, has enough going on to get anyone excited about fishing.  Listen in on seminars by area experts, observe wildlife artists at work, learn to outfit and paddle a kayak for fishing,  watch casting demonstrations by Lefty Kreh, or take a fly-tying or casting class taught by Bob Clouser or Ed Jaworowski.  The Festival attracts countless vendors, and offers great atmosphere with live music, carnival food, and friendly people!

    A trout pool provides fun for youngsters, who will assist in releasing their catches into the neighboring South River.  The joint wine tasting festival offers relaxation for older attendees.

    Admission is $20 for a single day and $35 for a weekend pass, which covers all festival-related activities, including the wine tasting option for those 21 and older.  All kids 16 and under are admitted free with a paying adult.  Half of the proceeds from the event are forwarded to the Shenandoah Valley chapter of Trout Unlimited for Conservation efforts.  So come out, have fun, bring a kid, support a good cause, and wet a line in the South River!
    For more info, go to, or call (703) 402-8338.

April 27—19th Annual Mint Springs Kids Trout Fishing Day

There's no denying that a tug on the
line is crucial to interesting a kid to
fishing, and these events are great
first experiences!
    Located in scenic Crozet, a kids’ trout fishing day will be hosted by the Albemarle County Department of Parks and Rec, DGIF, Trout Unlimited, and the Kingfishers organization from 9:00 AM to 3:00 PM at Mint Springs Park.  All kids ages 12 and under are invited to attend, and are not required to have a license.

    Participants are advised to bring their own bait and tackle, though supplies will be sold on the day of the event.

    Trout will be stocked in the two ponds on site to be caught by the youth, with the hope of promoting awareness towards cold-water fisheries conservation and involvement in the sport of fishing.

    For more information, call (434) 296-5844.

May 4—Kids’ Fishing Derby at Gypsy Hill Park

    The Staunton Department of Parks and Rec invites kids of all ages to wet a line in Lake Tams at Gypsy Hill Park on Saturday May 4th.  Historically, the lake has been stocked with rainbow trout and posted several days in advance, prohibiting fishing until the horn is blown to start the derby on Saturday.  Registration begins at 7:30.

    Prizes are awarded in numerous categories—biggest fish, smallest fish, most fish, etc.--and each participant will receive a hot dog lunch, a drink, and a goody bag.

    Kids 4-15 are not required to have a license.
    For more information, call 540-332-3945

May 11—Fly Fishers of Virginia Youth Event

    On May 11th, the Fly Fishers ofVirginia will again hold their Brotherhood of the Junglecock Campfire at Camp Brady Saunders in Goochland.  The FFV’s program includes informational sessions on fly tying, fly casting, fly fishing, spin fishing, bait fishing, lure identification, knot tying, and even a class on environmental 

    The event runs from 7:00 AM till dark, and is concluded by a served dinner and announcement of raffle prizes.  Every kid will win!

    This is a great event to get a child involved with.  For more information about attending, call (804) 262-3788.

    I was fortunate enough to have a father willing and eager to pass on the fishing bug, and I am deeply indebted to him for that, but not all are so lucky.  Even if you have no kids of your own, or they are grown, find someone willing to tag along and invest a day in their future.  It’s the only way to ensure the continuation of our sport.

Send Us Your Pics!

    Have kids fishing pictures?  We are always interested in seeing, and maybe featuring, them!  Send them along via the Contact Page, or by posting to the Facebook page!

Originally published in the Rural Virginian

Sunday, April 14, 2013


    Every fisherman knows someone who is blindly affectionate of one particular lure, some more logical than others.  

I have met a man who fishes buzzbaits chronically, even in the winter, and has luck with it.  The secret here is not revolutionary or life-altering, but fundamental.  Like religion, confidence lures are powerful only through the faith put into them, which translates to more time in the water, and, naturally, more fish out of it.  This confidence gives men of faith a mental edge, and more success.

    As a young and impressionable victim of the fishing industry, in the beginning of my years fishing solo, the majority of my fishing took place on my grandparents’ dock on a 36-acre lake filled with sunken timber and the traditional southern mix of largemouth bass, sunfish, and crappie.
    At that time, I was particularly fond of the cool, fishy-looking lures with lots of hooks, especially the ones with the big noses.  I never landed any of Old Creek Lake’s monster bass, because my gear could never budge them from their home rooted on the lake-bottom; but they always had a soft spot for those lures, and their strikes were halting and fierce.

    I had them patterned pretty well, too.  They “related” to particular features of the shoreline, and were homebodies that never really moved much, except for when the water level rose or fell they would move deeper or shallower, respectively.

    My luck fishing that lake was the reason for my early devotion to trebled lures.  Plus, I’m pretty sure I was the only eight-year-old habitually laying down tens for $7 crankbaits in the local tackle shop following trips to the grandparents’—which must have looked pretty cool.

    Later, Chris McCotter, a local guide, introduced me to a cool little lure called a swimbait.  It too looked like a fish, but lacked the tactical appeal lent by many sinister hooks.  However, what the lure lacked in pointiness it made up for in fish.

    I began catching fish of all species with the lure, and it became one of my go-to's.  Even in the woody lakes, though I still couldn’t handle the unyielding bottom-dwelling monsters, I began catching fish and saving money.

    Now, somewhat informed, and a devoted crazy to the sport of fishing, Berkley’s Rippleshad is a staple in my tackle box.  In introducing my brother to fishing, I forced him to purchase a few packs under my self-proclaimed truth that they were good “all-around” plastics.

    He fished the lure on occasion, but never with much luck.  He was a non-believer, and my job was to convert him.

    On a recent fishing trip together, at a familiar farm pond, I tied on a Rippleshad initially, casually throwing around pet names like “pearl gold” and “fish crack” in order to start a bit of a friendly competition.  I was fighting for my beloved.

    This is one bet that you make confidently, but go into with a severe sense of struggle and desire not to fail.  Fishing bets are among the most painful to lose, not because they make you go bankrupt or give up a finger, but because you will never ever hear the end of it.

Phillip with his first pickerel.
Photo by Matt Reilly
    My first cast was short-struck, and a second with a slower retrieve produced the first fish—a small 10-inch bass.

    Several more fish came, many pickerel, a few crappie, but mostly bass.  My brother was falling behind.
Eventually I won.  My friendly opponent switched permanently to my side and took to examining my retrieve.  I was happy to help.

    With this, he began catching fish, including his first pickerel.  Soon he was snagging the monsters rooted in their dwellings, and likewise depleting my supply.

    As dusk dawned, we were making our last casts.  My tackle box’s Rippleshad population was suffering a mortality event at the hands of my brother when I hooked one of the monsters—but this time, I could move it!

First 8-pounder of 2013!
Photo by Phillip Morone
    A long tense fight followed, as a powerful fish rolled and jumped at the surface.  Finally, with shaking hands, I landed a thumb in the mouth of the year’s first eight-pound largemouth.

    Needless to say, my fish- crazed brother was a man of strong faith by then.  Later that night, I received a call asking for my opinion on colors—he ordered six bags from Berkely.

    A confidence lure becomes a strength only in practice.  One fish caught will make the lure a more appealing tool on later trips, and every additional fish serves as a refinement to your technique—a constructive critic.  Everyone’s will be different, so this spring, fish your confidence lure, and send pictures of your success!   

Originally published in the Rural Virginian

Wednesday, April 3, 2013


    It was on my short drive home from school on a wet mid-March afternoon that I had my first encounter with one of Spring’s long-anticipated sights—a gang of big black fanning birds spread about a distant field edge, plucking grubs from the softened earth.  

My senses overloaded with visions of drizzly April mornings, the air dank with the aroma of redbud and dogwood blossoms, and booming gobbles resonating from hardwood hollows.  This time of year, a light rain is a welcomed benefactor, and turkey fanatics fine tune their putts and purrs with their always-handy tools.  It’s spring, and it’s time to talk turkey.

The Regulations

    This year, the spring gobbler season will take off on April 6th with the arrival of Youth Day, open to youth 15 and younger.  Look to the DGIF website for information about purchasing an apprentice license.
    April 13th marks the beginning of the general season, and hunting is permitted until noon through May 4th.  All day hunting begins May 6th, and runs till the season’s close on May 18th.
    As in years past, there is a daily limit of one bearded bird.  Three birds can be taken in a licensed year, pooling fall and spring harvests.

The Facts

    Biologists note a gradual 1.2-percent annual decrease in the turkey population over the past decade.  This is considered a stable population, a welcome one that still fluctuates by the year.

    Spring harvests in 2011 ranked three-percent higher statewide than in 2010, and with equal increases in numbers found east (EBR) and west of the Blue Ridge (WBR).

    2012 brought a two-percent decrease in harvests statewide, with hunters WBR noticing a 9-percent drop and those EBR, a very slight reduction from 2011.  But a general consensus among hunters deemed the 2012 season a fluke.  Many believe that a mild winter encouraged an early green-up triggering mating two weeks early.  This theory is supported by the Youth Day harvest of 530 birds—a 53-percent increase over 2011’s 347.

Mild winter and spring conditions resulted in a high poult
yield and low mortality rate through the summer of 2012,
which may reflect generously on hunters's harvests in
upcoming seasons.  Photo by Matt Reilly

A Good Year?

    In contrast, this year’s long, tapering winter should keep foliage at bay until the season’s opener.  Gary Norman, DGIF wild turkey project leader, furthermore predicts, because two-year-old birds make up the large majority of gobbler harvests annually, an above-average poult production in 2011, along with the generally mild weather experienced later in the spring, should warrant positive turkey densities across the state in 2013.  Combine these elements, and those chasing gobblers this spring can favor their chances.

Where To Hunt?

    Eastern slope counties like Bedford, Botetourt, and Franklin, and Southern Piedmont counties like Halifax, Pittsylvania, and Southampton—all large counties—often rank high when considering the number of harvested birds.

    However, biologists stress that reproduction and, likewise, population density is local.  In terms of birds killed per square mile in past years, it’s realized that hunters’ best shot at a turkey will be in the Tidewater and Southern Piedmont counties of Westmoreland (2.06), Richmond (1.90), Northumberland (1.43), Lancaster (1.37), and Surry (1.36). 

    In these counties, large, agricultural tracts of private land are not hard to come by, and provide good hunting for hunters willing to ask permission from landowners.

    However, don’t rule out public land.  The department maintains several WMAs that boast decent turkey hunting, such as Featherfin WMA in Appomattox and Big Woods WMA in Sussex.  The western Thomas Jefferson and George Washington National Forest lands span many top ten counties in terms of overall harvest numbers.

Talk, Don’t Play, Turkey

    Hunting accidents are rare occurrences, but they happen, and every precaution should be taken to avoid one.

    Turkey hunters commonly wear full camouflage to hide themselves from the wild turkey’s keen eyesight.  Wearing blaze orange while on the move, or taping a tree near your stand with orange tape can help make your presence known to fellow hunters.

    Never stalking a turkey is the other side of this equation.  You may be after another hunter’s gobbles and decoys. 

    Finally, if you are successful, pack out your bird adorned with orange, so other hunters can’t mistake your trophy from one they’re about to take.
    Chances are, DGIF Executive Director and devoted turkey enthusiast, Bob Duncan, has been clucking and purring for weeks.  Are you ready?  Overall, factors indicate an average to slightly above-average 2013 spring season, with plenty of big, sharp-eyed, flighty game birds to match wits and share a beautiful spring morning with.

We’d Love to Hear From You!

    If you’ve got trophy pictures or Youth Day stories, send them in via the contact page!

Originally published in The Rural Virginian